Hard at work on her upcoming EP, The Iron Age, LA’s alt-pop songstress Clara-Nova has been reinventing her image and her sound in order to embrace the next step in her musical journey. Luckily, we got to speak with her prior to her NYC showcase at Rockwood Music Hall tonight to discuss the new music (out 3/2/18), what songs she’s most excited about, and the EP’s accompanying photo exhibit set to debut in LA.
How did you select your new moniker, CLARA-NOVA?
I was living in New York City and wanted to change my scenery, my sonic sphere, and my name. I wanted to shed an old shape and find a new one that felt like me. I picked CLARA-NOVA because it is strong and focused. It is a NEW CLARITY.
What inspired you to take on a new name, rather than building on the work you’ve already created as Sydney Wayser?
After years of releasing music under Sydney Wayser, I felt it was time to move forward. There were a few reasons for the change. First, is simply that my first and last name came with an association of a certain type of acoustic singer / songwriter sound, and I wanted to be able to explode out of that sonicscape. Secondly, I wanted to have a character or moniker that took the pressure off me a bit. CLARA-NOVA gives me space to be whoever I want to be on stage. In a backwards way, leaving my name behind meant I could be more myself on stage.
Along with your new name, how would you say your music has changed from your previous work?
Musically, my new sound has developed and shifted away from my sound as Sydney Wayser. I’ve been experimenting with synths and live looping. When I moved back to Los Angeles and started setting up my house in Laurel Canyon, I realized I could actually make some noise now. The house didn’t have any neighbors that could hear me, so I brought in a drum kit, bass rig, synths, pianos, etc. My newly found ability to spread out spatially allowed me to spread out musically as well. I found myself playing the drums and singing melodies over a beat or playing a synth bass part and building percussion around that and then finding words to match.
What makes a song a CLARA-NOVA song, rather than a Sydney Wayser song?
Sydney was the first part of my musical journey and CLARA-NOVA is the new chapter. I think the Sydney record, Bell Choir Coast, was when I started to find my sound, and the new music is an extension of that sound.
In what ways will your upcoming EP explore new sonic elements?
The new music dances around with different synths and African drum beats. There are strings and lush vocal harmonies. This record feels like I allowed myself to take up space. Shawn Everett and I created a safe zone in the studio to try out new ideas, and I think that led to a more adventurous sound. It felt good to try on different musical hats. There are parts that are beautiful, parts that are uncomfortable, parts that are serene, parts that are aggressive. I am all of those things, but I think I was afraid of showing that before.
Why is the new album called The Iron Age?
I released an EP in October 2015 entitled The Bronze Age with an LA-based label that has since folded and removed all my CLARA-NOVA music from the internet. I’ve spent the last two years re-recording all the music they took from me. When thinking on names for the new EP, The Iron Age seemed like the perfect name – a response to that chapter of loss. A new name to honor the last few years of strength and unbendable will to move forward.
You’ve released one song off The Iron Age thus far, called “The Illusionist”. Why did you choose this as the first track to release?
This song seemed like the perfect single for my new start / re-boot since the label took my music. “You’re an illusion, an illusion, an illusionist.” A fun and danceable response to the label mishap.
Aside from “The Illusionist,” what songs on The Iron Age are you most excited about, and why?
“Echo” is going to be the second single to come out early next year. I wrote it with my friend Harlan Silverman a few years ago, and I’m excited to finally share it with the world! “Flora” is also a favorite. It sort of wrote itself after a day of walking around the Norton Simon Museum. I was driving home and the chorus poured out of me and spilled into the verses, and, before I knew it, I had a finished song.
What artists were you listening to during the making of The Iron Age? Did anything in particular influence your own work?
There’s always a steady stream of Beck, The National, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Rufus Wainwright, Leonard Cohen and Grizzly Bear on my speakers, so I’m sure those have informed the new music. I was listening to a lot of Malienne music around that time too.
How would you say working with producer Shawn Everett expanded your sound on the new EP?
He and I had a “try anything” policy, and that allowed us to fall down the rabbit hole. He’s an engineering wizard and taught me so much about programing, recording, and soundscapes. I could dream up any idea and he would make it happen. I made a vision board of images that inspired the songs, and, when we were stuck, we would point to different images and make sounds that we thought represented the photographs. One of my favorite days in the studio was when Blake Mills came in, and he and Shawn decided to record feedback for “Flora.” The song is lush and beautiful and then all of a sudden this wild feedback comes in! It’s a bit aggressive but also beautiful in its dissonance.
How will the photography installation you’re also premiering in 2018 in LA complement the music on The Iron Age?
A lot of the inspiration behind the music has been visual, so it made sense for me to create a visual installation to correspond with my music. From the vision boards to museum visits, the songs started out as poetry written from images.
What came first—the photo installation or the music? What inspired you to bring these two together into one cohesive piece?
The visual component was born while making the music video for “The Illusionist,” actually. The director, Mimi Cave, and I were throwing ideas back and forth for the video concept and eventually settled on building a large rectangular box made from steel and plexiglass. I liked the idea of clear walls. We are put in boxes and people make assumptions on who they think we are based on the box they’ve put us in. I wanted to elaborate on that idea for the installation.
As a visual artist, how do you approach combining multiple mediums in a project? Is it always the same process or does it vary?
This connection between visual and musical expression sort of created itself. It was as if I was reassembling a puzzle. All the pieces fit but I needed to find out how. When the music video came together and the structure was built, the photography portion clicked in naturally.
Does your work in visual mediums have any influence on your live performance or stage set-up?
I’m starting to dive into my live show now. I want to find a way to build a portable stage setup that reflects the steel and plexiglass structure I’ve been working with. There are a few ideas floating around but nothing solidified yet. I recently designed lighting fixtures for my shows, which was a fun addition. I guess they are an ode to Dan Flavin as they are white fluorescent lighting structures.
Great, thanks for speaking with us! Good luck with your showcase at Rockwood Music Hall tonight; we can’t wait to hear more off of The Iron Age.
INTERVIEW: TESS CAGLE
PHOTO: AMBER CANTERBURY